GSA's new chief acquisition officer has big plans, but time is not on her side.
As the new chief acquisition officer of the General Services Administration, Molly Wilkinson has a laundry list of issues to tackle during the next 18 months, before a new administration takes over. Dealing with the controversies swirling around Administrator Lurita Doan is not one of them. "That was all before me," she says matter of factly.
Wilkinson, who previously served as associate deputy secretary for management at the Labor Department and as special projects coordinator for the Iraqi National Conference, which helped elect members of the general assembly, is taking a forward-looking approach. She's embarked on a listening tour with GSA officials and plans to visit each of the regional offices by the end of September. Closer to home, she wants to shore up GSA's data integrity, help unburden the exhausted acquisition workforce and improve relations with agency customers. While upbeat about the new job, Wilkinson, a native of upstate New York, has diminished expectations on at least one front: finding authentic Buffalo wings in the Washington region. Government Executive sat down with Wilkinson last month to discuss issues, culinary and otherwise.
On her primary goals for the agency:
Right off the bat, the thing I would like to establish is to help the acquisition workforce develop and grow. . . . One of the most startling statistics I see is that in 2016, 50 percent of our contracting officers will be eligible for retirement. So my No. 1 goal is to take a look at how we can help contracting officials-the 1102s, the program managers, the COTRs [contracting officer's technical representative], that whole broadly defined front-line workforce-get some relief, help them do their job well, make sure they have the right training in place and help them evolve and grow. And also, get more [workers] in the pipeline. That 2016 statistic is really concerning to me. And it's not only a concerning thing for GSA: Do we have enough contracting officers joining our workforce and moving through the ranks, but are there enough people moving into the ranks in all federal agencies?
On some key initiatives already under way:
We are looking at the budget of [the Federal Acquisition Institute] and whether or not that's an appropriate level for its mission. I am involved in the [Acquisition Committee for E-Gov] Council, which is developing and taking a look at the requirements for the next version of FPDS [Federal Procurement Data System]. I am a member of the DoD-GSA Working Group, and we have 24 action items under the DoD [Memorandum of Agreement]. Six have been completed so far, and we are in various stages with all the others. Some are directly in my lane, so I am responsible for making sure those are executed. Some are in the lanes of other people, and I'm working with them to make sure they implement them as well.
On the challenges she expects to face:
There are a lot of ambitious things that we'd like to do, and there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. But I am still working, and I've still got my head down driving. What I would like to do at the very least is set a guide path to get some of these initiatives pointed in the right direction. All of these issues, in my opinion, are apolitical. They are good government. What's the best value for the American taxpayer-that's always my mantra when I wake up in the morning-and what I am doing in my role as CAO to point us in that direction and to make that happen.
On her experience contracting in a war zone:
I worked over in Iraq in the early days of 2003, standing up and equipping the Iraqi police. I worked with contracting officers over there in identifying requirements, everything that a policeman would need to have-pants, boots, belts, holsters, handcuffs, guns, weapons, all that kind of stuff. We also tried to do contracting with local Iraqi businesses. That was an experience because I would go in and out of Iraq to factories, looking at the quality of the shirts they were producing and things like that.
On past problems with the GSA inspector general:
The CAO's office has a good working relationship with the IG's office. All that other stuff happened before me. We have our own ongoing projects with them. I've actually sat down with the IG's staff and gotten briefed on the various statuses of their projects. I have encouraged our staff to be really cooperative and give them everything they need to do their functions. Clearly, the IG statute spells out the role of the IG and the benefits that an IG can play to an agency. So I am going to work to make sure that I live up to the statutory requirements. So, from our point of view, it's been fine.
On providing agencies the best value for their contracts:
Our goal is to always make sure that we are issuing clear guidance on policy and procedures that are bright lines to contracting officers and to our fellow agencies that enable them to issue best value for their contractors. We work on that constantly. The thing I always want to take a look at, in terms of best value and [GSA's Multiple Award] Schedules, is encouraging people and other agencies to take a look at governmentwide contracting vehicles as opposed to agency-specific vehicles. It's up to every agency to choose how they want to do it. But from my point of view, governmentwide vehicles are, in the long run, more cost beneficial, not only to the federal government but to industry. It eliminates duplication of effort; it streamlines procedures.
Folks only really have to learn one set of guidance or one set of rules. And in the long run, when you are doing that-when you are really trying to make sure you are economical in your choices-that's how you are getting to the best value.